While some people assume that cosmetic products are a recent invention, discoveries of the use of cosmetics go back thousands of years.
Remains of palettes estimated to be around 100.000 years old have been discovered that contain traces of mixed pigments. These were most likely used for cave art and body decoration, while the Neanderthals even used body adornment to make statements of personality.
Much later on, the ancient Egyptians used scented oils and ointments to clean and soften their skin, protect it from the sun and wind, and even to mask body odours. Heavy make-up around the eyes also became common in ancient Egypt as a beauty statement, as well as to offer protection from evil spirits and improve eye-sight!
Discoveries show that people living in present-day Turkey used creams made of animal fat to soothe the skin as far back as 3000 BC, and the ancient Greeks applied white toxic lead to their face to obtain the pale look that was all-the-rage. The Greeks also painted their lips with a paste made of iron oxide or ochre mixed with olive oil, and used kohl for eye shadow and to connect the eyebrows (the unibrow was considered a beautiful feature!).
Still back in ancient times, Chinese people stained their fingernails with colours to represent a social class. Soon after, they began using rouge for lips and rice powder to make their faces white. Also the ancient Romans made their skin paler by using chalk powder, white lead and a cream made of animal fat, starch and tin oxide.
Moving into the first millennium AD, henna became popular as hair dye and for painting complex designs on hands and feet around 300-400 AD in parts of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and South Asia.
Even the sea-faring Vikings were at it! Both men and women used make-up, such as kohl for the eyes, while much attention was paid to grooming of hair and beards and weekly bathing, which was unusual at the time.
In the Middle Ages, cosmetics usage spread across Europe, to the chagrin of the church. Pale skin was still deemed attractive, so lead, chalk or flour was employed. Some people would even engage in bloodletting in the hope of lightening their skin. Lipstick and rouge were seen as reserved for women of “bad character” such as prostitutes, and church officials were known to proclaim that cosmetics were only used by heathens and Satan worshippers!
Elizabeth I of England was famous for her red hair and pale beauty, which she obtained by using white lead and vinegar. Many women made tremendous efforts to look like her, using hair dye to attain the same hair colour as her. Soon after, the aristocracies of England and France became obsessed by their cosmetic regime. Pale skin, rouge and wigs were a must and the application of beauty spots became widespread, with the exact location of the spot being seen to represent a particular aspect of an individual’s personality!
The rise of an actual cosmetics industry took off at the start of the 20th century. In the very early 1900s, make-up was not yet in wide use, except for face whitening for which arsenic was often used! Pale skin was namely associated with wealth as rich people did not have to spend time outdoors tending to fields. The entertainment industry played a major role in making cosmetics fashionable as of around 1910, first through famous ballet and theatre stars, and later Hollywood, where icons of our industry such as Helena Rubinstein and Max Factor began their careers as make-up artists.
Fast forward to the present day, and thankfully, tin oxide, white lead, arsenic and bloodletting for cosmetics purposes remain a thing of the past! Instead, we now have thousands of products, ranging from sun care, oral care, skin care, hair care, body care, and make-up to perfume, each of which is tested extensively for safety before entering the market, based on strict EU laws.
Natural, mineral based cosmetics offer full-but-light coverage; foundations contain skin-clearing benefits; research proves link between physical appearance and well-being; new products adapt to personal features
Electrostatic sprays introduced, enabling uniform application of make-up; pigments (photochromic) are used to create light-reflecting make-up; silicon micro-fibres begin to be used in foundation
Shiny shell (nacré) pigments, formed from a mica base covered in a transparent layer of titanium dioxide, are used in eye shadow
Mascara wands are introduced, eliminating harsh brushes
Invention of the first kiss-proof lipstick
The first pigmented and shiny varnishes are developed
Ingredients derived from petrochemicals create an innovative revolution in makeup formulae. Bright colours become popular and foundations perfectly match skin
The portable metal lipstick container (that we still know today) is first sold
Invention of the modern form of mascara, based on coal dust mixed with Vaseline
Invention of the first lead-free makeup, used primarily in theatre
Particles containing emulsions improve the delivery of active ingredients and enable the use of natural and organic substances as ingredients; anti-ageing technology uses hair keratin to repair and rebuild ageing hair structures
Ammonia-free tone colourants are introduced after intensive research enables formation of colour pigments similar to the natural hair pigments
CFC-free hairsprays (to stop ozone depletion) introduced: first 2-in-1 shampoo based on silicones
Introduction of first conditioning shampoos (containing cationic actives to cling to and "repair" hair); molecular research allows for advancements in hair treatments and colourants
Invention of the first hairspray, made by Robert Abplanalp's invention of the aerosol can
Patents are awarded for the use of thiols in hair cold-waving; first home hair-colouring product introduced
Dr. John Breck develops pH-balanced hair-soap; zinc pyrithione is synthesised to fight dandruff
First liquid shampoo introduced; invention of hair products for men
Karl Nessler develops a system to perm hair; French chemist Eugene Schueller invents synthetic hair dye
Hans Schwartzkopf develops a water-soluble shampoo; perfumer Edouard Pinaud develops the first modern hair conditioner
Hydrogen peroxide is introduced as "water from the golden fountain of youth", because it bleaches hair quickly
Major improvements in analytical methods allow better knowledge of natural ingredients
Nobel Prize-winning discovery that a major part of our genetic code is devoted to the sense of smell, and therefore fragrances smell differently depending on a person's genetic "body odour profile"
Development of synthetic musk compounds (polycyclic musks)
Gas chromatography allows improved identification and analysis of materials present in natural substances
Development of new molecules (for example hedione) creates new families of perfumes
Introduction of the first fashion house perfume using aldehydes in larger proportions
Launch of the first perfumes for men; discovery of aldehydes and the ability to associate them with flower extracts opens the possibility of abstract perfumes, which don't replicate natural ingredients; launch of first mass-market perfume
First perfumes containing synthetic fragrances such as coumarine and vaniline
New raw materials synthesised from natural oils
First eau-de-cologne is created by Jean-Marie Farina
Organic and natural products gain popularity; stem cell research helps address skin at the molecular level, focusing on epidermal DNA protection
Alpha hydroxy acids reverse photoageing damage and stimulate production of collagen and elastin; vitamins, ceramides and fatty acids are linked to improved skin "barrier"; retinol and retinyl esters improve anti-ageing benefits; Nano-emulsions transport Vitamin A; anti-blackhead patches are introduced
Study finds human skin can be damaged by free-radicals which leads to development of anti-oxidant treatments; liposome encapsulation technology and anti-ageing creams introduced
John F. Burke and Ioannis V. Yannas of Massachusetts Institute of Technology invent artificial - or reconstructed - skin with countless research applications
Discovery of liposomes as a delivery system for additive ingredients
Casimir Funk develops the concept of vitamins, enabling synthesis of vitamin C; the structure of collagen is discovered
Isaac Lifstschütz patents the first emulsion "water-in-oil"
A viable way to extract glycerine, an effective water stabiliser, from the soap-making process opens the way to develop moisturisers
Sunscreens begin to contain a fixed ratio of UVB and UVA filters; products with light and transparent textures, spray-on sunscreens up to SPF50+, disappearing coloured products (for children) are introduced
EU provides recommendation on efficacy and labelling of sun care products, supported by Colipa
Sunscreen protection levels are enhanced by use of new UVA filters and nano-pigments
Scientists discover certain esters, enabling development of "water resistant" sunscreens
"The Tanning Years" when the damaging effects of UV rays were not known; 6 organic UVB filters become available; Franz Greiter introduces the "Sun Protection Factor"
Eugene Schueller invents first sunscreen; mass-marketing shortly follows in USA, Australia, Germany & France
The international Commission on Illumination determines UV rays should be categorised into UVC, UVB and UVA
UVB rays identified as potentially carcinogenic
Complete sunburn-causing UV spectrum is identified